Laughing through the pain. That was comedian Heather McMahan’s approach as she talked through childhood growing pains and losing her father in her first Netflix comedy special, “Son I Never Had,” which dropped Tuesday.
While McMahan’s comedic fame may have originated from funny Instagram videos and her podcast “Absolutely Not,” her physical comedy and voice impressions allow her to take full command of the stage in her debut special.
McMahan’s set began with a glimpse into her experience growing up looking different from the rest of her family. Because of her “thick neck,” affinity for wearing golf shirts and family role of lifting heavy weights, her late father would refer to her as the son he never had, a sentiment that inspired the comedy special’s title.
The transition from her Atlanta upbringing to topics such as sex, drugs and the loss of her father was jarring, but effective.
“Well enough about my childhood trauma, let’s talk about adult trauma, OK?” McMahan said about a third of the way through her performance.
While only some of the show is about McMahan’s father, “Son I Never Had” is the latest in a line of comedy specials where comedians have been more open about their mental health and other, more serious topics. McMahan shared that her father passed away seven years ago due to pancreatic cancer. She said the span from his date of diagnosis to his date of death was only seven days.
“I’ve had periods that have lasted longer than that,” McMahan said, followed by a moment where it wasn’t clear if she and the audience would laugh, cry or do both.
There were multiple moments in the special where McMahan talked through hurtful experiences but stuck to a therapeutic delivery, which allowed the audience to laugh along with her. Going back and forth between speaking so freely about traumas and sharing wild stories, which often included over-the-top faces and voices made the performance relatable with a small side of emotional whiplash.
At the halfway mark of her hour-long show, McMahan pivoted to discuss how her grieving process led her to a dark place filled with drugs and alcohol. She documented this journey on Instagram, which turned her into an influencer overnight.
The day after getting too high at a Lululemon wellness retreat in Malibu with famous basketball players in 2019, she was called to guest co-host “The Today Show” with Jenna Bush Hager, while still high. She said this moment helped launch her comedy career.
The comedian also discussed the current state of the body positivity movement, joking that singer Adele did fat women dirty with her weight loss. She cited Khloé Kardashian and Rebel Wilson as other “traitors” who have gone over to the “dark, thin side.”
“‘Fat Amy’ is no longer fat,” she joked.
McMahan also talked about the double standards present in the comedy world, saying there is still a stigma around female comedians talking about their sexuality. Male comedians are not only allowed to make crude jokes, but they’re often celebrated for it. The same opportunity is not as freely afforded to women. Being the son her father never had, McMahan didn’t shy away from sexually explicit topics.
“A male comedian could get up here, drop trou, do the fucking helicopter for 45 minutes, and get invited on Joe Rogan,” McMahan said. While “Heather McMahan: Son I Never Had” was the comedian’s Netflix stand-up debut, her instant relatability ensures that there will be more to come. The comedian’s self-deprecating yet confident humor and willingness to discuss sensitive topics made her show memorable.